Yeah, it took me quite a long time, several listens, and a detour in between to discuss the music of Kody West and Colter Wall before I could accurately put into words how I feel about this album. And that’s due to the sheer talent of John Moreland, the fact that his lyrics are on quite another level and hard to digest, let alone put onto paper, and generally that I felt this album is very good and deserved better words, even if written later, rather than words which were forced out just after the release. It’s always good to see success and talent coming out of my home state, and Tulsa’s John Moreland definitely has the talent–and a portion of the success. But this record could, and should, be the one that brings him to a new level of success and prominence.
I’ll say first that this album isn’t really country, although you’ll hear some country touches, like the occasional steel in “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before)” or the lively harmonica in the opener, “Sallisaw Blue.” It’s not really Red Dirt or country rock either, like so much music coming out of this region. It’s closer to Americana, with lots of nice piano and acoustic guitar brightening up the record, and actually the Apple Music description sums it up well: “Heartland folk rock, warm and tough like weathered denim.” “Warm” is the perfect word to describe the melodies; Moreland’s past work has been largely dark/depressing, but there’s definitely a happier tone to this album, perhaps due to Moreland’s recent marriage and current state of mind. regardless, the melodies will stick with you, and it’s that detail which elevates this record from something on the more boring singer-songwriter side to something more relatable because those melodies will get stuck in your head, and you’ll find yourself coming back and listening. It’s an album that works its way into your heart slowly, a bit like Jason Eady’s latest record. And credit to John Moreland for giving equal attention to his melodies–many Americana/folk projects suffer from the same problem of considering melody secondary to lyrics, and thus, while maybe telling a great story, often lose that story in a forgettable melody.
And speaking of those lyrics…I already said they’re on another level, and I can’t really put into words even now the poetry of John Moreland. As I say, you come back to this album for the melodies, but the more you listen, the more new things you unravel in the words, and you start to find lyrics that could rival the genius of even Jason Isbell–yes, that’s what I said. I’ll say that “Love is Not an answer,” accompanied by some of that beautiful piano I mentioned, and the acoustic “NO Glory in Regret” stand out as fantastic pieces of songwriting, but you just have to hear them to fully appreciate them, and that’s why I struggle to put the music of Moreland to paper; my words can’t do it justice, and it loses something in trying.
So after all this praise, why am I giving this album an 8? Well, it goes back to relatability. With all that deep songwriting, sometimes it’s just not accessible/relatable. It’s still hard to rate this because some people are going to absolutely love this album and call it a genius piece of art. Other people are going to hear it and say, “It’s good, but I can’t get into it.” Still others are probably still going to see it as boring despite its charming melodies and instrumentation. This is one of those times that I can see all angles, and this 8 is the best I can come up with as both a fair critic and an honest music fan. I do think it’s an album that grows on you, and people that buy it and listen to it multiple times will get more from it than people who stream it once and say it’s not for them. It took me lots of listens to fully appreciate it, and it’s still getting better. And that, as I say, speaks to the talent of Moreland, that his work improves with time.
So, would I recommend this? If you like older rock or folk rock or Americana, absolutely. There’s a beauty in these melodies and lyrics that is special. I’m not sure your average person looking for strictly country gets into this quite as much, but this is still real and raw and rootsy, so it just depends on your musical tastes. As I say, it won’t relate to everyone because of the sheer complexity with which John Moreland writes his songs, but it’s an album worth checking out, and it keeps getting better each time you hear it.
Standout Tracks: “Love is Not an Answer,” “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before),” “Sallisaw Blue,” “NO Glory in Regret,” “Amen, So Be It,” “lies I Chose to Believe”